Hallelujah Bill

Wednesday, March 23

The Indian thundered down Highway 101. The sound of its engine echoed from thick forest entangled in mist on either side of the road. The mist clouded his goggles and dripped from his leathers. At least it wasn’t raining. He was driving through the Olympic Rain Forest, headed for Forks, where it rained 212 days a year. No one rode a motorcycle to Forks this early in the year without a desperate purpose. Rathskill’s purpose was Tad Marcs.

Rathskill had researched the boy’s disappearance. The Peninsula Daily News reported the story. The boy had gone missing from his bed at night. There were no clues, no suspects, no reason, no ransom request. And there was no body. No one knew what had happened to him, at least, no one willing to talk to reporters. The story carried by the Seattle Times was only a paragraph of facts, facts as bare as the bones in the forest. No wire service had picked it up.

The Daily News published a candid photo of the boy probably taken on his mother’s cell phone, looking over his shoulder as he ran carelessly, freckled cheeks and a smile that seemed larger than his face. He was missing one of his front teeth. He probably had found a quarter under his pillow. Maybe a dollar, Rathskill thought, with the price of inflation.

Rathskill couldn’t remember when he was young enough to be visited by the tooth fairy. He felt old, old as dirt, old as the wet sky hanging overhead.

His own mother probably used the tooth fairy as a moral lesson, the moral being that love was contingent, a reward for good behavior. It could also be withheld.

Forks had the unfortunate distinction of appearing in Dave Gilmartin’s book, The Absolutely Worst Places to Live in America. Gilmartin called it “a festering wound of a town.”

It was an unremarkable town, hardly the worst, a lumber town that had fallen on hard times, foreign competition, and the northern spotted owl. Rathskill suspected the townspeople largely blamed the crash in the lumber industry on environmentalists and the endangered owl. Industry experts mostly blamed it on Canadians flooding the market.

Then Forks became a spaceport. The Rubicon, an entry in the Ansari X-Prize for civilian space flight, was launched from Forks with a mannequin as a passenger. It exploded spectacularly mid-air and littered the Pacific Ocean with bits of mangled mannequin. The bits later washed up on the beach, puzzling tourists.

After its failure in sub-orbital tourism, Forks returned to a troubled stupor until the local economy resurged because of a fiction, a novel about a young girl who moved from Phoenix to Forks and fell in love with a vampire. The vampires had adapted to the low ambient light of a climate that rained 121 inches annually. They even attended high school. The irony of an immortal attending high school likely escaped the book’s target audience. Rathskill hadn’t read the books.

What had Tad Marcs thought about vampires? Had they become as familiar and cuddly as the Tooth Fairy? Or were they still the apex predator of nature red in tooth and claw? Did the boy have nightmares about being drained of life by a vampire or torn to pieces by a werewolf? Did he ever dream about the evil ordinary men do?

Rathskill stopped at a liquor store on the edge of town to buy a pint and chat with the clerk. Liquor store clerks were often a source of local knowledge, especially when business was slow and they were bored. It was a small shop. Liquor bottles lined two walls and ammunition the third.

“Seems you’ve found a niche market,” Rathskill said, looking at the variety of shotgun shells behind the counter. “Drunken hunters. Surprised you don’t sell wooden stakes. You’d think they’d be popular souvenirs.”

The clerk looked sour. “We sell what you see,” the clerk said. “Booze and ammo. You want souvenirs, go to the Chinook Pharmacy down the street.”

“Just kidding. I was thinking about moving here. What’s the town like?”

“Why would you want to move here? You some kind of vampire groupie?”

Rathskill held up his hand. “Not me. No sir. Just retired and looking for an inexpensive place to live. Somewhere quiet and peaceful.”

“You can’t get more quiet and peaceful than Forks and still be above ground,” the clerk said.

“What about crime?” Rathskill said. “I heard a little boy was kidnapped recently.”

“Nothing much happens around here. People get drunk, punch each other. You don’t want to leave your car unlocked. People are poor. Besides that, nothing much.”

“What about the kid?”

The clerk shook his head. “Never happened before. Town’s always been safe for kids. It’s got people riled up, blaming each other. Kids could pretty much wander where they wanted until it was time for dinner. Great place to grow up, like when I was a kid. Now parents won’t let their kids out of sight. Damned shame.”

He rode the Indian into town and parked behind a screen of trees at Tad Marcs’ school. The elementary school was separated from the high school by an athletic field advertising the Forks Spartans. He didn’t stay long. It wasn’t a good time for a man on a motorcycle wearing leathers to be seen surveilling an elementary school. The school had nothing to tell him. Nothing about Tad Marcs remained.

He pulled into the parking lot of the Forks Coffee Shop, hoping to find someone who would pour his coffee and stay to talk. A man wearing a sandwich board stood on the sidewalk.

A Bible verse was hand-lettered on the sign. “There are those whose teeth are swords, whose fangs are knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, the needy from among mankind. Proverbs 30:14.” The board was signed Hallelujah Bill.

“Not a fan of vampires?” Rathskill said.

“Not vampires. Not werewolves. Not any spawn of hell,” Hallelujah Bill said. “Young girls come here, all fluttery, thinking vampires are like the Beatles, ready to faint at their feet. They got no idea what dangerous things walk the streets of Forks. Brother, the demons have been loosed from hell. Hallelujah!”

Hallelujah Bill looked like he hadn’t eaten in several days. His skin was the color of a salamander’s belly, not unexpected in a place where the sun never shined. Rathskill offered to buy him a cup of coffee and a meal.

“Don’t drink coffee,” Hallelujah Bill said. “Don’t drink alcohol, either. Just water. Water I draw from the spring myself. Only way to be sure I’m not being poisoned. God’s own water, that’s all I drink. Hallelujah!” He set down his sandwich boards. “Damn thing gets heavy.”

“You said there are dangerous things on the streets,” Rathskill said. “What did you mean? What kind of things?”

“I’m here, day and night, preaching the word of God, warning the unwary. I see things, things that shouldn’t exist, not in a Christian nation. Signs of the end times. I warn people. No one listens. The tourists chase after demons and the townspeople chase after their money. No one listens.”

“I’ll listen,” Rathskill said.

Hallelujah Bill looked at him suspiciously. “You with the government health services? I told you, folks, I don’t need no nurse to wipe my ass for me. I can take care of myself.”

“I’m not with the health services,” Rathskill said. “I’m interested in a young boy who was taken. Tad Marcs. I’m with the police.” Like any good lie, there was a kernel of truth encompassed by a husk of deception. “A consultant.”

“Like Sherlock Holmes?”

It took Rathskill a moment to make the connection. “Yes, like Sherlock Holmes.”

“I’m a big fan of Conan Doyle.” The man’s face brightened, then clouded again. “I don’t know much about the missing boy. I don’t know who took him. Might have been the Green Man. I’ve seen him on the edge of town. Might have been the government. They…”

“The Green Man?” Rathskill interrupted.

“He’s harmless mostly,” Hallelujah Bill said, “unless he’s boxed in a corner. I’ve seen him most often at the cemetery. He steals some, clothes hung on a line or boots left on the porch. I doubt he’d take a child. But there’s others out there. Witches, Satanists, voodoo.”

“Voodoo? What, like a houngan?”

“Don’t know what you call him. Face like a skull and a big cigar. Dresses like a dandy. Top hat and cane.” Hallelujah Bill’s cheeks puckered like he wanted to spit but his mouth was too dry.

The description—skull, cigar, top hat, cane—sounded surprisingly like Baron Samedi, the Haitian loa of resurrection. In a town that catered to vampire tourism, was it possible someone was impersonating a Haitian loa? Maybe not all the tourists who came to Forks were fluttery young girls.

“I think it was the government took him,” Hallelujah Bill said.

“What?”

“They inject pregnant women to manipulate the genes of their unborn children. Enhances their psychic ability. Then they come for the kids and take them to an underground site at Fort Mead. They drug them, torture them, make them into assassins. Psychic assassins. Never let them see the light of day again, never hear a kind word. They die young, thrown away like a broken tool. There’s no hotter place in hell than the one reserved for child abusers. Hallelujah!”

He left Hallelujah Bill hoisting his sandwich board back on his shoulders and preaching his warning to passing motorists. Rathskill wondered what tragedy or disease had unhinged the man’s mind. Hallelujah Bill was hardly alone. Estimates were over one-quarter of Americans suffered some form of mental illness. The number was rising.

Groucho Marx had quipped that he didn’t want to belong to any club that would have him. Hallelujah Bill and Rathskill both belonged.

Whistlepig

In mythology, the hero descends to the underworld. What happens when the underworld ascends? Whistlepig, a serialized fiction. Table of contents.

@ Copyright 2018 Charles Thrasher All rights reserved.

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